Brussels bristles at 'hellhole' label

LONDON • He incensed Paris and London by saying that some of their neighbourhoods were so overrun with radicals that the police were too scared to enter.

He raised Scottish tempers by threatening to pull the plug on his investments there if British politicians barred him from entering.

Now United States Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has upset the already-beleaguered people of Belgium, calling its capital, Brussels, "a hellhole".

Asked by Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo about the feasibility of his proposal to bar foreign Muslims from entering the US, Mr Trump argued that Belgium and France had been blighted by the failure of Muslims in these countries to integrate.

"Go to Brussels. Go to Paris. Go to different places. There is something going on and it's not good... There is no assimilation," he said.

He added that Brussels was particularly dangerous. "You go to Brussels - I was in Brussels a long time ago, 20 years ago, so beautiful, everything is so beautiful - it's like living in a hellhole right now," he continued.

Belgium has come under scrutiny for failing to tame growing radicalisation. French writer Eric Zemmour recently suggested that rather than bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's self-declared capital in Syria, France should bomb Molenbeek, the working-class Brussels district where several attackers involved in last November's Paris attacks lived.

For Belgians, Mr Trump's words were enough to induce a fit of pique worthy, in some cases, of Mr Trump himself.

Before long, the hashtag #hellhole was gaining traction on Twitter as Belgians lashed out at him, deploying an arsenal of insults, irony and humour.

One Twitter user posted a picture of him with what appeared to be a Belgian waffle stuffed in his mouth. "This is my hellhole," Mr Joseph Lemaire, a Brussels-based public relations consultant, posted on Twitter.

Most Belgian officials reacted with quiet defiance. "We don't react to Mr Trump's comments," the office of Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said in an e-mail.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Brussels bristles at 'hellhole' label'. Print Edition | Subscribe